The Original Ballad of Mulan
Using the original Ballad of Mulan (a relatively short 31-couplet poem from 1,500 years ago) as muse, Professor Jim Millward in LARB China Channel reminds us that no matter where we live and who we are, what we think we know of history is often not the case. History is always a matter of interpretation. More often than not, the long passage of time, retellings, and changes in society cause history to be either completely turned on its head or simply more nuanced than straightforward. We should thus cast a critical and reasoned eye to what we think we know to get to a more balanced truth.
"Mulan is not originally a story about a patriotic Chinese woman. It is not a story about self-sacrifice to defend one’s country. It is not a thrilling tale of martial valor. It is, rather, a commentary on the fruitlessness of war against people who are more like oneself than different, delivered in the voice of a woman who does her familial duty out of necessity and then chucks her medals and goes home – a war-weary expression of truth to power."